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Special people get jump on Three Rivers Fest fun

Logan Boyle hugs Tara, a comfort dog, at Three Rivers Fest.
Logan Boyle hugs Tara, a comfort dog, at Three Rivers Fest.

Kids to adults got a jump on the fun at Channahon's Three Rivers Fest Wednesday during the invitation-only event for persons with special needs.

The fun-filled day began with a swim in the pool at the Tomahawk Aquatic Center, then lunch under the big tent courtesy of McDonald's and TCBY yogurt.

By 12:30, the carnival rides were ready to start up and the game midway was open for some fun.

The event is sponsored annually by the Rotary clubs of Channahon-Minooka, Morris and Joliet; as well as Fantasy Amusement Company who brings in the carnival, TCBY and environmental engineering firm Watterson.

Over the years, it has grown from hosting 400 guests with special needs and their families and caregivers to an expected all time high of over 1,100 this year.

Special Needs Day at Three Rivers Fest is designed to give kids through adults with disabilities a chance to enjoy the carnival without additional crowds, loud music or other distractions that might take away from their experience.

Ride operators were ready to lend an extra hand getting on and off rides and slow things down a bit if needed. Game operators were giving special help and attention to their guests.

Chris Chesson of Channahon opted out of the early swim. He doesn't like carnival rides. But he loves going to fairs so much that he was returning that night with friends when the festival officially opened to the public.

Steve Kirsch of Shorewood said his daughter Rikki Kirsch, now 23, loves coming to events such as this just to be able to hang out with friends that she might not otherwise see. They've been coming about five years now, he said.

"In the special needs community, you get to know a lot of people," Steve Kirsch said.

Anna Gilchrist, Marcus Bennett and Connor Markiel were there with a group affiliated with Special Connections of Morris.

Anna was excited to get on the Tilt-A-Whirl and Zero Gravity rides. Marcus had enjoyed the swimming, he even went to state with Special Olympics in the sport.

Connor was happy to be among his pals. "Hail, Hail the gangs all here," he sang out.

There were other fun things to do this year too, including holding a 35 pound snake from Traveling World of Reptiles hugging lovable Golden Retrivers brought in by Comfort Dog Ministry.

The weather was perfect, the food was great, the volunteers were helping everywhere and there were lots of smiles, said Channahon Park District Executive Director Chuck Szoke.

"Everything is running terrific," he said.

Channahon Mayor Missy Schumacher said that she always makes sure to make Special Needs Day a priority.

"This is by far my favorite event at the Three Rivers Festival," she said. "To see their happy faces; it's an event I make sure I attend every year."

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